Posted on November 04, 2009 under General
Caribou on the Kokolik River

The Kokolik River is a wonderful canoe trip for so many reasons. The river is clear and swift, Alaska Cariboumaking for fun but easy paddling. The scenery is spectacular and varied as the river cuts through rocky ridges and emerges into broad basins only to reenter the canyons a few miles later. Bird watching is a true joy. In addition to species common to Alaska’s arctic like Lapland longspurs, short-eared owls, and rock ptarmagin we see Asian migrants like blue-throats, wagtails, and bristle-thighed curlews. We see scores of raptors nesting on the river’s cliffs and bluffs including white gyrfalcons, peregrines, and rough-legged hawks. Muskox are common, as are bears, marmots, and foxes. Swans and geese are plentiful and the hiking is superb. But the real jaw dropper on the past two canoe trips I have guided down the Kokolik has been our encounters with the Western Arctic herd of caribou. Recent estimates place the population at around 300,000 animals, so we have only seen but a fraction of the herd, but on one trip so many animals swam the river it became white with shed hair. I would guess we saw 60,000 animals in a 24 hour period! In 2008 we also got to see both wolves and bears chasing and eating caribou. It is thrilling to see such an abundance of wildlife. Here is a little video clip I took in June 2008. The footage isn’t great but it does convey the mass of animals we saw at lunch one day.